Longhorns still look for answer in solving Big 12 offenses

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Senior safety Dylan Haines totaled two interceptions in the first half against Oklahoma on Saturday. But the Longhorn defense withered in the second half, giving up 31 points.
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

It’s been a rough three weeks for Charlie Strong and the Longhorn defense.

The team has surrendered an average of 48 points per game en route to a three-game losing streak. Texas’ head coach has tried to improve an ailing defensive unit, altering the team’s secondary rotation and taking over play-calling duties from defensive backs coach Vance Bedford. 

The issues plaguing Texas have confounded the Longhorn staff, who speak consistently about improved tackling and turnover production. But through five weeks, nothing has seemed to work. 

“It’s a simple game that we make so complicated,” Strong said. “Everything is about fundamentals and technique, and we have to preach that.” 

Texas’ defensive struggles partly stem from its opponents’ high-powered offenses. Its three losses all came against offenses ranked in the top 20 in scoring, including No. 20 Oklahoma and No. 19 Oklahoma State. Those teams were able to exploit Texas’ deficiencies, most notably capitalizing through the air. 

“We’ve had some blown coverages that have been turned into big plays for touchdowns,” senior safety Dylan Haines said. “You can’t let it get to you and can’t have it happen again.

The Longhorns’ strength of schedule decreases in offensive potency in the coming weeks. Texas faces two unranked opponents in Iowa State and Kansas State. The Cyclones are ninth in the Big 12 in scoring, while Kansas State sits last in the conference in passing offense. After a whirlwind three weeks away from home, Texas hopes to work out the kinks in its next two matchups. 

But the road won’t get much easier for Texas down the stretch. The Longhorns still must prepare for No. 11 Baylor, No. 20 West Virginia and explosive offenses in TCU and Texas Tech in the coming weeks. 

Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU make up the nation’s top three offenses, respectively, while West Virginia stands at No. 23. In the Big 12, high-octane offenses aren’t the exception, they’re the norm.

“It’s a matchup league,” Strong said. “Everyone is in the spread, they spread you out and find the mismatches.”

Texas’ offense has held up its end of the bargain through five weeks, continuing to put up the points necessary to keep up with opposing attacks. The Longhorns average 41 points per game, good for No. 3 in the Big 12. Their running game accounts for 245 yards per game behind junior D’Onta Foreman, the conference’s leading rusher. 

Texas’ offensive players insist the defense’s struggles haven’t affected them. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele said the offense must only focus on what it can control.

“It shouldn’t come down to how many we gave up,” Buechele said. “However many they score we need to score one more … We know what we can do on the offensive side, and we should have scored more than 40 [against Oklahoma].”

However, the pressure to match opposing offenses is still a difficult task, especially for a freshman quarterback and first-year offensive coordinator. 

Shutting down Big 12 offenses isn’t easy. Still, the Longhorns must find a way to slow them down if they wish to turn their season around.